Rather savage review: The Island

Doubtless there will be spoilers in what follows. However, they are irrelevant since my overwhelming advice is to never see this movie, instead taking two and a quarter irreplaceable hours of your life and doing anything else. Been meaning to try crack? Curious about heroin addiction? What the hell. Give it a go.

I didn’t realise this was a Michael Bay movie before his name came up in the opening credits. Usually I don’t pay much attention to directors of mainstream movies, but Bay has taken every opportunity to distinguish himself with stupendous awfulness.

I’ve figured out his problem. He has no visual storytelling ability whatsoever. And he directs films. You know. A visual medium. Now, he can get a shot that looks okay and string a few together in a way that looks flashy. But he has no fricking idea whatsoever that the images could tell the story. Or, rather, when he does attempt to use some visual elements, they are so stunningly hamfisted it hurts.

A couple of minor examples, while it festers afresh in the mind.

The scene where Ewan McGregor’s real world human counterpart comes downstairs and lies to the clones with a big smile on his face. (The audience already knows he is lying as he has just made a phone call upstairs to the bad guys.) Earlier, we were told Scarlett Johansson clone can tell he is lying by this visual cue. And lo, we see her react to this. And turn to McGregor’s clone, and say “He’s lying.” Fine up till this point, really. And then she says out loud that she knows because she has just seen the visual cue that we all saw and knew what it meant. Instead of just communicating she is sure with a look to back up the original statement.

Or the bit where the black mercenary, against his character the entire movie (really, would it have hurt to develop this dude at all?) gives a spiel about his brand in response to seeing the clone’s brand, essentially justifying his sudden rebellion with some broad swathes of emotional manipulation. I cannot be arsed listing the number of ways this could have been done better, visually, and with his character actually being satisfying delivered instead of suddenly being elevated from function to content.

I mean, maybe all this “here come the indians” shite is what happens when you get given hundreds of millions of dollars to build huge sets and blow shit up. The producers want to be sure every asshat who likes explosions will understand it.

See, this all hurts more than usual because it could have been so much better. The premise is fine (despite it meaning we will probably never see a film adaptation of Michael Marshall Smith’s excellent Spares), the sets are fine, the cast is tolerable (and, actually, credit where it’s due, Sean Bean was solid; at least, the movie would have suffered with a lesser performance in his role as main bad guy; Steve Buscemi gets to play a relatively upstanding citizen, with recognisably human levels of sleaze, instead of his usual classy fish eyed gutter crawling filth (That’s a compliment. We like Steve B.) before dying as he must to advance the story. Oh well. Scarlett J and Ewan M are quite good at playing adults with the minds of children, and look pretty most of the time), the sheer amount of money they had to play with… it all should have come to something more.

For the first half hour, there was hope. So much interesting stuff could have been done. Unfortunately, as soon as we leave the clones little institution, we are thrust into a meaningless chase scene lasting most of the rest of the movie, in some respects. But particularly the one that goes on for ages as they run down corridors, through rooms, around places we have never seen and don’t know anything about, being chased while having no sense of tension because we don’t know where they are or their pursuers in relation, (No. Visual. Storytelling. Ability.) And once again proving my theorem that any movie where someone yells “Go go go go!” is almost certainly going to be shit. (Okay, excepting Aliens, just in case that slipped in there, though I don’t recall it.) It’s like the script said “They Run” and the monkey went, right. Film them running around. Make it energetic. Later, there’s the standard meaningless gun battle where we don’t know where anyone is in relation to anyone else or really who anyone shooting is but boy, lots of stuff is getting blown up, ain’t it neat?

Normally, I can suspend disbelief really well. Sink right in and let the story be delivered without picking holes in it or spotting for twists. Because I’ve always felt that if you’re doing that in a story or movie, you’ve missed the damn point; that the people telling it are pacing it and delivering it the way they are for a reason, and you should trust them to guide the experience.

But anyway, here’s a question for you. Say you’re driving a really huge futuristic Mack Truck along a freeway, carrying a ginormous dual levelled trailer load of giant metal hand weight shaped barbell things, and, unbeknownst to you, two stowaways. And the giant metal barbell things start rolling off the back of your truck, destroying cars and trucks.

Do you:
a) think, “Oh, shit!” and pull over, or
b) ignore it and keep driving for several minutes while dozens more of the giant metal barbells fall off and destroy more cars and trucks, only stopping when a helicopter gunship shoots out your tyres?

See, little stuff like that is what writers are for. Internal consistency. If we were making ships, we would be the guys who make sure it’s seaworthy and not FULL OF GIANT STUPID FRICKING HOLES.

GIANT STUPID HOLES MEAN STUPID SHIP SINKS, STUPID.

Stupid Michael Bay.

12 Responses to “Rather savage review: The Island”

  1.   2treesandahorse
    July 27th, 2006 | 9:08 am

    Never seen the movie. Not sure if I ever was going to. Now never will. I am sure it would annoy me as much as you. Thank you for the sacrifice, you took a hit of two hours so the rest of us dont have to. you are a hero.

  2.   bradley
    July 27th, 2006 | 11:25 am

    Hey 2trees, at least if you’re offered a part in the sequel you’ll be going in fresh.

  3.   Joey
    July 27th, 2006 | 12:08 pm

    I’ve figured out his problem. He has no visual storytelling ability whatsoever. And he directs films. You know. A visual medium.

    He started off directing tv commercials, and has not advanced even one iota since then. On the other hand, if you ever get the chance to see the two-minute trailer he made for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (made before the movie, to convince the studio to finance it) you’ll see he really is a genius when it comes to making ads. He’s just a moron when it comes to making movies.

    I swore off Michael Bay after Armageddon, and haven’t for a second regretted missing Pearl Harbour and The Island.

    And once again proving my theorem that any movie where someone yells “Go go go go!” is almost certainly going to be shit.

    Much like any movie where someone raises their fists to the sky and shouts “Nooooooooo!”

    Later, there’s the standard meaningless gun battle where we don’t know where anyone is in relation to anyone else or really who anyone shooting is but boy, lots of stuff is getting blown up, ain’t it neat?

    This seems to be Bay’s trademark: “If we cut it into enough pieces, we won’t need to stage it properly in the first place!”

    Ed told me that this was the first Michael Bay movie not to have a shot that was so blurry and in motion that you actually couldn’t tell what the fuck you were looking at, so maybe that’s progress?

    Larry Cohen tells a story about shopping around his script Phone Booth (eventually filmed by Joel Schumaker). Michael Bay was involved at one point. The whole point of the movie, if you haven’t seen it, is that a guy is trapped in a phone booth by a sniper and has to work out how to escape without getting shot. It’s supposed to be tight and claustophobic.

    Apparently Bay’s first words in the first meeting were, “Okay our first problem is how do we get this guy out of the fucking phone booth?” Next thing you knew he’d developed a new script with rooftop chases and explosions.

    They sacked him first chance they got and made a good and highly-regarded movie on a relatively low budget that went straight to number 1 in the US box office.

  4.   Scott A
    July 27th, 2006 | 2:07 pm

    Billy: please, don’t watch The Island! It’s awful!

    Whoops, sorry, too late. Should’ve warned you earlier. But, I’ll be honest: I haven’t seen it and never intend to. And it’s the only way to stop this guy getting work: if no one watches, buys or rents his obscene pieces of crap.

    Things I don’t understand about Michael Bay: “Why does Spielburg rave about him, and act as a mentor to him?” Has Bay got some video footage of the ‘burg with a young child and an albino alpacca, or something?

    Now, there are people out there who read both our blogs, who when I last lambasted Michael Bay had a go at me for being too critical, over-analysing and not suspending disbelief. Wonder if they’ll say anything here?

    Anyhoodles…, I’ll end with a film quote: “I miss you as much as Michael Bay missed the mark in Pearl Harbour.”

  5.   Joey
    July 27th, 2006 | 2:38 pm

    Scott: I think you meant they criticized you for not switching your brain off, for noticing plot holes, and for expecting movies to treat you like your IQ is higher than your shoe size. 😉

    I am all for good dumb fun in action movies. The key words here are “good”, “fun” and “action” (as in “I like to be able to tell what action is occuring, not just flurries of indistinct movement”.) Michael Bay movies are like watching someone else play video games: I think to myself “Gee that looks like fun, wish I could have a go.”

    These movies cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A 12 year old child paid in candy money would be adequate for pointing out most of the problems in these movies.

  6.   morgue
    July 27th, 2006 | 3:09 pm

    Aliens does have a “Go go go.” When the marines are leaving the reactor area, it’s part of the chatter you hear over the radio mikes, right around ‘Marines! We are leaving!”.

    You knew I had to answer that.

  7.   Administrator
    July 27th, 2006 | 6:03 pm

    The overwhelming thing is this movie had no business sucking as hard as it did. With a script rewrite and a different director, this could have been like $30 million cheaper, and 30 times better.

    brad: (Un?)fortunately no sequel is remotely likely. Though 2trees will take Hollywood, somehow, someday.

    Joey: the ad thing makes lots of sense. The dream sequence at the opening credits could well have ended with a perfume bottle or something appearing instead of fishmen. Although there was enough blatant product placement anyway.

    Scott: I am duly forewarned of Pearl Harbour and expect to never see it.

    Mo: Yeah, that would explain my subconscious niggle and its just exemption. An minor military character shouting it off screen while running away from being ambushed and slaughtered by freaky aliens is a different kettle of fish from the star of the piece giving a completely redundant rendition during a lame scene.

  8.   samm
    July 30th, 2006 | 9:27 pm

    Good Lord but Pearl Harbour is a terrible, terrible movie. I was kinda interested when Bay said in a pre release inrterview he was interested in making it as historically accurate as possible, which matters to me. There is maybe 30 seconds worth of believable, plausible flying sequences in the whole movie. Given that much of the movie involves flying sequences, it was embarassing. Stuff like planes flying around cars, and executing turns that if real would physically destroy the aircraft through induced G force is not accurate. I laughed out loud at the bit where they got the japanese planes to shoot each other down by means of a head on pass. I’m not sure if I laughed out of pity or embarrassment that people might somehow accept this tripe as history.
    I recommend ‘Tora tora tora’ as an alternative. Long, at times boring, but infinitely more realistic (ie, actually realistic). And no CGI. Plus Akira Kurosawa partly directed it.

  9.   Joey
    July 31st, 2006 | 4:21 pm

    Samm: Kurosawa was actually fired from Tora! Tora! Tora! after a while, and Kinji Fukasaku(Battle Royale) took over on the Japanese parts.

    Fukasaku had the advantage of actually living through WWII in Japan (something that also informed BR).

    I read an interview with Ben Affleck once where he was asked to compare working with two “top action directors”, Michael Bay and John Woo. I can’t find the quote, but it was basically:

    “The thing you’ve got to remember is that John Woo is a complete gentleman, while Michael Bay is a complete cunt.”

  10.   samm
    August 1st, 2006 | 11:56 pm

    Thanks for the correction Joey. Serves me right for trusting me memory.
    Michael Bay sucks arse.

  11.   Joey
    August 2nd, 2006 | 10:01 am

    You were half-right, Samm. Kurosawa directed some of it.

  12. July 30th, 2009 | 7:33 pm

    […] Now, the movie was insultingly beyond shit. It is indeed remarkable than anyone, even Michael Bay, can make So Much Movie, and still have it suck so much. But this was only to be expected. Given that, the experience of the film is best approached as a document of the cultural psyche – the stories we tell ourselves at the mass myth level are revealing material for psychoanalysis rather than film criticism – and it is on this angle that we shall focus. […]